Electrical conductivity in doped organic semiconductors

Researchers have identified the key parameters that influence electrical conductivity in doped organic conductors.

Organic semiconductors enable the fabrication of large-scale printed and mechanically flexible electronic applications, and have already successfully established themselves on the market for displays in the form of organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs). In order to break into further market segments, however, improvements in performance are still needed. Doping is the answer. In semiconductor technology, doping refers to the targeted introduction of impurities (also called dopants) into the semiconductor material of an integrated circuit. These dopants function as intentional “disturbances” in the semiconductor that can be used to specifically control the behaviour of the charge carriers and thus the electrical conductivity of the original material. Even the smallest amounts of these can have a very strong influence on electrical conductivity. Molecular doping is an integral part of the majority of commercial organic electronics applications. Until now, however, an insufficient fundamental physical understanding of the transport mechanisms of charges in doped organic semiconductors has prevented a further increase in conductivity to match the best inorganic semiconductors such as silicon.

Researchers from the Dresden Integrated Center for Applied Physics and Photonic Materials (IAPP) and the Center for Advancing Electronics Dresden (cfaed) at TU Dresden, in cooperation with Stanford University and the Institute for Molecular Science in Okazaki, have now identified key parameters that influence electrical conductivity in doped organic conductors. The combination of experimental investigations and simulations has revealed that introducing dopant molecules into organic semiconductors creates complexes of two oppositely charged molecules. The properties of these complexes like the Coulomb attraction and the density of the complexes significantly determine the energy barriers for the transport of charge carriers and thus the level of electrical conductivity. The identification of important molecular parameters constitutes an important foundation for the development of new materials with even higher conductivity.

The results of this study have just been published in the journal Nature Materials. While the experimental work and a part of the simulations were conducted at the IAPP, the Computational Nanoelectronics Group at the cfaed under the leadership of Dr. Frank Ortmann verified the theoretical explanations for the observations by means of simulations at the molecular level. In doing so, a comprehensive foundation for new applications for organic semiconductor technology has been created.

  1. Large, stable pieces of graphene produced with unique edge pattern

Graphene is a promising material for use in nanoelectronics. Its electronic properties depend greatly, however, on how the edges of the carbon layer are formed. Zigzag patterns are particularly interesting in this respect, but until now it has been virtually impossible to create edges with a pattern like this. Chemists and physicists have now succeeded in producing stable nanographene with a zigzag edge. Not only that, the method they used was even comparatively simple.

Their research, conducted within the framework of collaborative research centre 953 — Synthetic Carbon Allotropes at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), has now been published in the journal Nature Communications.

Bay, fjord, cove, armchair and zigzag — when chemists use terms such as these, it is clear that they are referring to nanographene. More specifically, the shape taken by the edges of nanographene, i.e. small fragments of graphene. Graphene consists of a single-layered carbon structure, where each carbon atom is surrounded by three others. This creates a pattern reminiscent of a honeycomb, with atoms in each of the corners. Nanographene is a promising candidate for use in the field of microelectronics, taking over from silicon which is used today and bringing microelectronics down to the nano scale.

The electronic properties of the material depend greatly on its shape, size and above all, periphery, in other words how the edges are structured. A zigzag periphery is particularly suitable, as in this case the electrons, which act as charge carriers, are more mobile than in other edge structures. This means that using pieces of zigzag-shaped graphene in nanoelectronic components may allow higher frequencies for switches.

The problem currently faced by materials scientists who want to research only zigzag nanographene is that this form makes the compounds rather unstable, and unable to be produced in a controlled manner. This is a prerequisite, however, if the electronic properties are to be investigated in detail.

The team of researchers led by PD Dr. Konstantin Amsharov from the Chair of Organic Chemistry II have now succeeded in doing just that. Not only have they discovered a straightforward method for synthesising zigzag nanographene, their procedure delivers a yield of close to one hundred percent and is suitable for large scale production. They have already produced a technically relevant quantity in the laboratory.

First of all, the FAU researchers produce preliminary molecules, which they then fitt together in a honeycomb formation over several cycles, in a process known as cyclisation. In the end, graphene fragments are produced from staggered rows of honeycombs or four-limbed stars surrounding a central point of four graphene honeycombs, with the sought-after zigzag pattern to their edges. Why is this method able to produce stable zigzag nanographene? The explanation lies in the fact that the product crystallises directly even during synthesis. In their solid state, the molecules are not in contact with oxygen. In solution, however, oxidation causes the structures to disintegrate quickly.

This approach allows scientists to produce large pieces of graphene, whilst maintaining control over their shape and periphery. This breakthrough in graphene research means that scientists should soon be able to produce and research a variety of interesting nanographene structures, a crucial step towards finally being able to use the material in nanoelectronic components.

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